Last month the Pew Hispanic Center reported that net migration from Mexico into the United States has dropped to zero, with roughly the same number of Mexican citizens heading south across the border as north.Just a few days earlier, HR 1505, the misnamed National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, hit the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Aimed at stopping the non-existent flood of immigrants, this bill waives 36 laws on all federal lands within 100 miles of both the northern and southern U.S. borders for any Border Patrol activity. Forward operating bases, roads, and even new border walls could tear through national parks from Glacier to Olympic on the northern border to Texas’ beloved Big Bend with no concern for the laws that protect natural ecosystems or human communities. HR 1505 is a dramatic expansion of the Real ID Act, which gave the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to waive any and all laws to build border walls and roads. Former DHS Secretary Chertoff waived these same 36 laws, which include the Endangered Species Act and the Farmland Policy Protection Act, to build walls that otherwise would have been illegal. The resulting damage has been tremendous. Walls now carve up the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, fragmenting habitat set aside for endangered ocelot and jaguarundi. Up and down the Rio Grande, farmers and ranchers, some of whose families have held title to their land since the 1760’s, have had their property condemned by the federal government. One would assume that those who represent border communities in Washington would stand up for the borderlands and fight against the expansion of Real ID Act waivers. But Representative Francisco Canseco, whose district already contains more miles of border wall than any other in Texas, is one of HR 1505’s cosponsors. The city of Eagle Pass, whose residents are Rep. Canseco’s constituents, was on the receiving end of the very first border wall condemnation. Big Bend National Park is also in his district, and HR 1505 would sweep aside all of the environmental laws that currently protect it. But upholding the law in Eagle Pass and Big Bend are apparently unimportant to Canseco. The Border Patrol has not asked for the power to ignore our nation’s laws, and they have told Congressional researchers that “land management laws have had no effect on Border Patrol’s overall measure of border security.” Current Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano called HR 1505 “unnecessary” and “bad policy.” Representative Canseco recently said that “We must make sure Washington remembers that we are a nation of laws, and we must uphold the law beginning with the protection of our borders.” Canseco should take his own advice and protect border residents from the lawlessness of the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act. In a nation of laws we must uphold all laws, not cherry-pick a few and waive the rest. --- Scott Nicol co-chairs the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team. He lives a few miles north of the border wall in McAllen, Texas.
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